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Ottawa (Canada)

16th March. 2002

M. M. Afrah

Recently I received hundreds of emails from Somali well-wishers from all over the world, with some exceptions. Few non-Somalis (judging by their names) sent me and to nasty emails telling us "to get lost." One lady from Seattle in the United States asked me if I had nothing better to do " instead of attacking the West with your pen."

Well, my dear lady. The opposite is the truth. I've never dreamed of attacking the countries that welcomed us and gave us safe haven, free Medicare and welfare cheques after we have been uprooted from our own country by people with guns. If for any reason you are wronged because of who your are and what you stand for, I am fully prepared to stand by your side with my pen, come what may.

The truth is that we are being attacked both at home by our own homegrown terrorists and abroad by bigoted and narrow-minded people because of who we are. Others quickly jump to the conclusion that we are the most troublesome people in the world. Again, the opposite is true. Visitors in peacetime Somalia observed that the Somalis are cheerful, hospitable and friendly people. But in the Diaspora some people accuse us of being very loud in countries where people whisper when talking to each other in subways, in street cars and in elevators, while pet-lovers remark that we are terrified about their pets and often distance ourselves from their beloved dogs!

My dear lady, I do not have the tools of tyranny as bombs, guns, bazookas, bayonets, teargas and "Daisy Cutters". All I own is an old pen with which to vent my anger and frustrations against ignorance, bigotry, jingoism and stereotyping. The pen helps me express myself and explain to people like you, my dear lady, who we are and our concept of life on this planet that your people prefer to call a Global Village, whatever that means. As the old saying goes "The pen is mightier than the sword" - or the AK-47!

The Somalis have a long history, longer than the United States or Canada, and pride themselves on speaking the same language and profess the same religion.

Ask the British, for they are probably the only people in the world who know the Somalis, their culture and their way of life. No wonder they called us the Irish of Africa because, unlike other Africans, they had hard time colonizing us. Sir Richard Burton, the great British traveler and imperialist visionary have had hard time explaining to his audience in London that in the 18th Century when the British administration was in shambles, the Somalis had very efficient administration in the ancient city of Seylac and that the people there were "civilized in contrast to other peoples in the region". How could savages in Africa have an efficient administration? The stiff upper lips asked.

We also remember that, as recent as 1993, the British turned down an invitation from George Bush, senior, to join an international task force code named "Operation Restore Hope." It was supposed to be a humanitarian mission (initially at least), but the British remembered the anti-colonial rebellion that developed under the leadership of Sheikh Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (The Mad Mullah to the British) between 1914 to 1920. Although most of the ferocious engagements were fought inside the former British Somaliland "Protectorate" they overflowed into former Italian Somaliland and the Ethiopian-occupied territory when these powers lent their support to the British campaign.

However, the Sheikh's mission was directed against the Ethiopians and the Italians as much as the British.

With his own exceptional personal charisma and fame, the Sayyid (as he was called by his followers) was remarkably successful in applying the traditional guerrilla warfare. His forces quickly weathered the British and their allies and gained the upper hand in the battlefields.

Then the British adopted a new policy and with the help of locally raised camel constabulary kept the insurgents at bay for a short period of time until 1920 when a combined air, sea and land made a break through. The Royal Air Force (RAF), the first ever used in Africa against African insurgents, bombed the formidable stronghold at Taleh.

The Sayyid died in his sleep probably of malaria while trying to regroup his forces and his movement finally collapsed. He lost a battle but was not defeated.

There was no shortage of Somali heroes who fought against intruders. Before the Sayyid appeared on the scene, another hero, Ahmed Gurey (Ahmed the left handed) heroically fought against the Ethiopians and their Portuguese supporters and put them in a deadly corner for a very long time.

Other unsung Somali heroes and poets appeared in the Somali political landscape. These included Mohamoud Harbi, Hassan Gheddi Abtow, Nasiib Bundo, Farah Safey (Farah, the Swords-man) and Abdullahi Isse Mohamoud (transcript of a United Nations memorandum in Lake Success, 1947 under the title of a "Lone Somali Voice for independence"). This is not to say that we did not have our share of turncoats and Quislings in our history. And like every nation, we tried in our own modest way to keep our own list of WHO IS WHO in Somali history, orally if not written, in order to pass them on to future generations.

THEN, WHY ARE WE HERE? We unenthusiastically ended up in North America for the same reason, or even worse, as your ancestors who sailed to America and Canada - to flee from persecution, human rights violation, harassments and death. Our cities, towns and villages have been reduced to smoking ruins. The shear devastation is absolutely staggering. The situation is as volatile and dangerous as ever. Abroad we bravely endured the culture shock, the language problem, the harsh winter, the bullying by security guards, landlords and employers, not to mention stony-faced immigration and law-enforcement officials.

The issue of the Somali refugees have been debated on and off since 1991 when the first wave arrived at Toronto's Pearson Airport with only the clothes on their backs. However, their hopes for a new life in Canada have been shattered when successive Federal Immigration Ministers decided to keep tens of thousands of Somali refugees in legal limbo, because according to immigration honchos in Ottawa, the Somalis were undocumented and must remain in Canada for five years before their cases could be decided - a clear violation of the 1952 Geneva Convention on Refugees.

Osman Ali, Chairman of the Somali-Canadian Association in an interview with CBC radio on Thursday said the Somali refugees were unable to find decent jobs, because they were not landed immigrants, because they lacked what Canadian employers euphemistically call "The Canadian experience", or they were unable to speak either of the two official languages. Thus they were forced to live in concrete jungles known as Dixon Road on the shrinking welfare cheques to pay rents, feed and clothe their children. Many of these Somalis are qualified engineers, doctors, geologists, pharmacists, lawyers and mechanical engineers, but they were forced to work as casual labours, taxi drivers, janitors, pizza deliverers, parking lot attendants or security guards.

Somali community leaders and human rights advocates believe that the Somalis have been unjustly singled out because of their skin colour or their women's dress code. Obviously "designer" (white) immigrants were given the red carpet on arrival. For example, immigrants and refugees from the Balkans and eastern European countries did not face these hurdles.

Here is a poem by a 15-year-old Somali schoolgirl who took part in her school poetry competition in Toronto (Canada) in 1999:

I came from another country
I wear headscarf (xijaab)
I look different
I don't belong here
People look at me
And I know what they say
Weird girl
From another country
Wears headscarf
Doesn't belong
Who am I?
And why am I here?
Take me away
From this place
I don't want to be
Where I don't belong
I want to go home
To Somalia
Where I belong.

The girl gallantly expresses with conviction how every Somali in the Diaspora, young or old, feels today. To honour her, I have adopted the title of her poem "FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY" for my new book currently under review by Canadian and US publishers.

By M. M. Afrah 2002

Are you tired of reading distorted stories about Somalia by armchair authors? Order the "SOMALI TRAGEDY," by M. M. Afrah 204 pages with photos and glossary of Somali history.
It is an eyewitness account of the clan warfare and the US/UN military involvement in the Somalia debacle. $US20/ including H&S by airmail.
Mode of payment: International Money Order or through Somali money transfer companies near you. Order the book directly from the Author by sending your email to


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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